Recently, in the context of Rep. Steve Scalise inadvertently speaking about taxes over a dozen years ago unbeknownst to him to a handful of white supremacists, this space noted that the political left needs to embellish the episode in order to fit it into its narrative, despite having to buy into some incredible assumptions in order to accomplish that. The thinking of its members that enables them to overcome this high degree of credulity merits discussion.
Given the insignificance of the event, its datedness, and paucity of recorded evidence concerning it, two stories have emerged about it. The much more plausible of them (an excellent recounting of the nuances of both is here) is that the same guy, Kenny Knight, who headed the group also headed a neighborhood organization and scheduled the former to meet after the latter in the same location. Republican Scalise in 2002 was invited to speak to the organization and did so on tax issues, knowing nothing of the existence of the other group nor that it had some of its members wander in early to listen to him. Both Knight, who never was a political ally of Scalise, and his then-paramour confirm this account of events, both of whom could gain lasting political relevance and immortality if they argued Scalise knowingly and willingly spoke to the group; they gain nothing to say otherwise. What little documentation exists of the group’s meeting makes no mention of an appearance scheduled for Scalise.
The implausible version contends they, for unknown reasons, are covering up for Scalise or sanitizing his appearance, with this resting on that after the group’s meeting the existence of a couple of Internet forum posts mentioned his speaking and that a political opponent of Scalise’s, Kenny Lassalle, said he ran another organization in that same neighborhood, that Knight was antagonistic to it, and that Knight’s group didn’t exist, backed by that it was not registered with the Secretary of State as a nonprofit corporation. The holes in this should be obvious: dissatisfied with Lassalle’s organization, Knight could have formed a rump organization to counter and which like many such organizations he did not formally incorporate it, and the consideration of cui bono shows that Lassalle has everything to gain by trying to damage Scalise politically.
Yet the biggest hurdle for believers in that second story to bring it any credibility at all is to explain why Scalise would risk his entire political career to speak knowingly to a racist group. Why Scalise, a decade after Knight’s ally David Duke who had founded the group had ceased to have political relevance to all but a small fringe precisely, because it had become clear his protestations of moving away from white supremacist ideology were untrue, in knowing that any willingness to be associated with these people would ruin him politically then would embrace this opportunity? Indeed, the group’s ideas being so toxic, when Scalise found out and was under the impression that he had spoken only to the group that day, he immediately issued an apology to the world.
Maybe in 1992, just after Duke had racked up large margins in statewide races, a politician might have been tempted to court those voters. That didn’t last long, as witnessed by former Gov. Mike Foster’s in 1995 breaching ethics laws just to conceal the fact he wanted to buy Duke’s mailing list of potential voters. Yet even as his beliefs on nonracial issues remained mainstream, a decade later when full information was long out about Duke’s genuine racial beliefs that made him unelectable and politically radioactive to have any association with him or his advocates, it boggles the mind that then any politician would act so riskily to seek precisely that.
Unless one’s mind has surrendered to true faith in liberalism, the kind that cannot tolerate facts and logic that illuminate the internal contradictions of that religion. It’s illustrated in the comments both of a national political figure, Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson, who about the incident said that “[Scalise] was not current with the conventional thinking of the time,” and thus now needs to conduct outreach actions to show “he’s a changed man and is color blind or whatever,” and a Louisiana-based former Democrat operative and now academician and polemicist Bob Mann, who writes, in a larger context about controversial political viewpoints, that Scalise’s conservatism put him at risk to wandering into such a situation because “only 20 years ago, Duke’s racial views were fashionable among Louisiana’s white residents.”
Both comments for different reasons are stunning for their vacuity. Across the political spectrum, those who know Scalise attest to his detesting of Duke’s racial views, stated even before Duke gained prominence politically, and of his actions dispelling any racial animosities (such as voluntary coaching of black youths). Regardless, because of a manufactured story Thompson discounts all of that in effect to call Scalise racist, and also perhaps because Scalise voted as a state legislator against making Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday. As if that vote indicates anything insofar as racial animosity: Scalise and many conservatives opposed it on the principle that taxpayers were coughing up too many bucks for multiplying holidays. It’s inconceivable that Thompson does not know of these facts given the recent publicity of them.
Even more breathtaking is Mann’s assertion, which in fact was the case 50 years ago. But by 1995 the country had incorporated a quarter-century of eliminating institutionalized racism in government and policy, the world didn’t end, and hard-bitten racists were dying off or in retreat. A considerable amount of survey research was performed both in Louisiana and nationally after Duke’s successes in the earlier part of that decade, and it was universal in confirming that racist sentiments were confined to a small portion of the American public. Perhaps five decades ago you could say 50 percent of whites in Louisiana held at least some racist attitudes, but by two decades in the past it’s probably a stretch to say even 20 percent stubbornly adhered to such tripe. Mann (who almost certainly did back then as a paid hack to politicians) must live in a bubble even to consider what he wrote a real possibility. Thus the conjecture that Scalise felt no discomfort about coming to a group because it appeared mainstream to him is utterly ridiculous.
Yet both suspend their disbelief of their nonsensical understandings of others precisely because of the imperatives of their ideological crusade. Liberalism, defeated both intellectually and empirically, must cling to certain myths in order to validate itself. The interpretation of Scalise as willing dupe if not slick racist depends upon a larger prejudice that conservatism must, just simply must, somehow endorse racism, in order to bolster faith in liberalism as the right and holy belief system. The incredible irony of this is that conservatism, because of its emphasis on the individual and his rights against unjust government interference, is in principle by far the less prone to using racial and other grouping distinctions in policy-making, opposite of what liberalism is designed to do in its obsession about division of peoples and using government to create a war of all against all to the advantage of a privileged in-group that controls power.
But so it goes with liberalism. Which is why while many recognize the nonstory for what it is, some take it seriously. That reaction tells us much more about them and their needs than it does about any fantasy they might have about Scalise, conservatism, and ideology in America today.